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Advocates Call Phoenix Police Response To Homelessness Harassment, Immoral

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a widespread probe into the Phoenix Police Department to examine whether officers have been abusing people experiencing homelessness, among other allegations.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the founder of Arizona Jews for Justice, an organization that works on homeless initiatives.

He says certain laws already criminalize homelessness, and he says police intimidation makes it a moral and religious issue.

“And so for us, we feel like any attempt for the city or for the police department to put a barrier to us providing social services represents like the quintessential breakdown of a just society," Yanklowitz said.

He says he hopes the investigation will lead to more resources to support those experiencing homelessness.

Austin Davis is the founder of AZ Hugs for the Houseless, a homeless outreach program in Phoenix and part of Arizona Jews for Justice. 

Davis alleges police have used the law to justify harassment in the “Zone,” which is an area in the immediate surrounding of the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix.

“I’ve seen many instances of law enforcement misusing their power and about each week I often have to stand in solidarity with my friends on the street during their interactions with police," Davis said.

In response to the investigation, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams noted that reforms are underway, including a creation of the community assistance program where trained experts will provide services to people in crisis.

Phoenix City Council Had 'No Idea' Federal Investigation Into Police Was Coming

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.